Roger Cox: Galleries play role in art’s ecosystem

In January, the Urbane Art Gallery opened on Jeffrey Street
In January, the Urbane Art Gallery opened on Jeffrey Street
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IF THE number of commercial art galleries per head of population is any indicator of economic prosperity, then Edinburgh must be recovering very rapidly indeed from the recession. So many new galleries have sprung up in the last 18 months it’s been hard to keep track of them all – and that’s in a city where art buyers are already extraordinarily well served.

Recent additions to the capital’s art scene include the Sutton Gallery and The Photography Gallery, both on Dundas Street, and the Arusha Gallery and Gallery Ten, both in the West End. In December, a gallery called The Mission opened in the Cowgate and has since relocated to Leith.

April saw the launch of the EDS Gallery on Great King Street, in the heart of the New Town. Director Fiona McCrindle, who also runs the Edinburgh Drawing School from which the gallery takes its name, has work by an impressive range of artists on display, from relative newcomers like talented draughtswoman Kirstie Behrens to household names like John Bellany. In a real coup, the gallery currently has a huge, early Bellany canvas for sale: painted in about 1975, The Sea People II is the sister painting of his well-known work The Sea People, which is currently held in the Arts Council Collection at London’s Southbank Centre.

In January, the Urbane Art Gallery opened on Jeffrey Street, just off the Royal Mile. Director Tracey Robertson describes it as a “passion project” but she also has a clear sense of the gap in the market she’s hoping to fill. It might be hard to imagine a painting by French artist Sofu, whose vibrant work lies somewhere between Picasso and Basquiat, hanging above an elegant Georgian fireplace in the New Town, but for anyone looking for fresh international art this is now an obvious first port of call.

Speaking to Robertson and McCrindle, it’s clear that starting a gallery from scratch is a huge undertaking. Like setting up any small business, it entails financial risks, but there’s also something deeply personal about it. As Robertson says: “We’re showing the artists we like and that we’ve been following for a few years.”

In a year in which Scotland celebrates its stellar artistic achievements of the last quarter century with the mighty Generation project – a series of exhibitions in predominantly publicly funded galleries up and down the country – it’s easy to lose sight of the vital role that private galleries play in the delicate art ecosystem.

But without the entrepreneurial art lovers who decide to make careers out of championing the artists they believe in, the art world would be a much less interesting place; and we’d probably have a lot less to celebrate.